The Pens’ franchise centers are competing in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since leading their team to back-to-back appearances in 2008-09.
However, Evgeni Malkin claims not much is different for him and Sidney Crosby.
“We’re older,” he laughed.
Jokes aside, they are truly cherishing this opportunity to be back as they haven’t been here as often as people may have expected them to during their time in Pittsburgh. It’s been seven years, and with everything that’s transpired since, those players realize what it takes to get back to this point.
“It’s not easy,” Crosby said. “Having gone through a couple of those early on, 20 and 21 years old playing in the Finals, I think you get more of an appreciation for it now. And just love the opportunity to be able to get back."
The two players covered a number of topics during Media Day at CONSOL Energy Center on Sunday before they host Game 1 on Monday. Here’s what they had to say.
SIDNEY CROSBY On returning to the Stanley Cup Final: It does feel like a long time. There are so many things that have happened in between. There are different faces, a few familiar faces that are still around that you’ve gone through that with. For the most part, there has been a lot of changeover. It does feel like it’s been a while. The one thing that doesn’t change in the excitement, the appreciation you have for being here. It’s a great opportunity. You just want to make the most of it.
On getting back to the Cup after recovering from his concussion: Now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more. I realize how tough it is to get to this point. I think I’m motivated to win.
On the mood surrounding a Cup Final: It’s fun to see the momentum. It’s a sports town already, to see everybody rally behind the team is fun to be a part of. You feel that as a player. You want to win for so many reasons. When you see and feel a whole city behind you, as players you feel that. It inspires you out there.
On Patric Hornqvist: The way he competes every night, I feel it wouldn’t be right for him not to play for the Stanley Cup. What he does on a nightly basis, how hard it is to do what he does, go to front of the net, take the beating he does. This is where his game can shine, in tough situations, tight hockey. He brings a ton of energy to our team. As a teammate your happy to see someone like that have this opportunity.
On Burgh Proud: That says a lot. That’s what’s unique about playing here. The people, the way they rally around the teams here, no matter what team it is, even from team to team, different athletes come to the games, to have that support, we’ve been on the other side. We’ve gone to playoff games for the Steelers and Pirates. You just want to see them do well. You can relate to what they’re going through. You know how badly they want it. You just want to be there to support them.
On the extra media attention: There are guys that will come up here (to Media Day) and think, ‘wow, this is crazy. I haven’t seen anything like this before.’ It is busier than ’08-09. It’s all a part of it. At the end of the day the game itself doesn’t change. It’s all the same once you get on the ice. It’s everything else around it.
On a high skating game: This is going to be some of the fastest hockey that any of us have played when you look at the two teams and how they match up, how they want to play. That’ll be a big part of the game. Both teams really like to play with a lot of speed.
On touching the Prince of Wales Trophy: It’s probably not typical, but every year that Pittsburgh’s won we’ve touched it. I wanted to continue the trend.
EVGENI MALKIN On talking to general manager Jim Rutherford last year on how he thought the Pens could be become a Stanley Cup team and what he said was needed: Good players, like Phil (Kessel). We have a good team, but we lost every year and we needed to bring in faster guys like him. We signed Phil, we signed Carl (Hagelin) and the team started to play faster and we started to play better.
On not losing his cool as much on the ice anymore and if he feels a responsibility to be calm in front of the young guys: I try. I try doing my best. We have four lines and we have four good lines. Now we have (Nick) Bonino’s line playing very well, Sid’s line is playing very well and we started to play a little bit better. My line too, we start talking a little bit more, we practice together and every guy on the team has worked unbelievable. Everyone says my game is not like 2009 but I like my game, I try to do my best and every game I feel better.
On if his game even has to be like it was in 2009: No, I want better. Every game, it’s better. It’s a little bit tough to come back one month before playoffs. Now, I think my confidence has come back. I feel so much better and I’m trying to enjoy it, it’s the best time of year. We’re playing in the Finals. Just work hard every day for the last nine months. My game is not like 2009, but I think it’s coming back.
On if getting on the scoresheet in Tampa helped with his confidence: Yeah, of course. First of all, we won the last two games. We believe in ourselves. We believe in the locker room, in all 20 guys. We came back to Tampa and we said, ‘We will win this game for sure.’ And we won. This confidence, it’s not just myself, it’s confidence from the team and myself.
On how tough it is to come back in the playoffs after missing almost over a month: It’s a little bit tough because I saw the team won like 15 games and the media started talking about myself. I read a couple (articles) that said maybe we trade him because the team played good without Malkin. But I know if I play at my level, I bring the team more power. I can play 20 minutes, I can play power play and I can score, I can help the team win. If I play at my level, the team will play better.
On what it means to him to be back here: I mean, it’s not easy. We try every year and it’s the first time since '09. We worked the last nine months and it’s hard every round. We play against great teams and each player wants to win every shift, every battle. We did an unbelievable job. We won 15 games (the last month-plus) and started playing in playoffs and every round we played better and better.
On the Pens not needing him and Sid to produce as much to win and what that’s like: I’m fine. We have four lines. Maybe in 2009, we had two great lines. Me and Sid played like 25 minutes every game. But now we have a little bit different team, a different coach and he wants to use all four lines the same time. I don’t play over 20 minutes, I play a little bit less because we have four lines. It’s a little bit different, but I’m fine. I play power play, I play 17-18 minutes. It’s fine for me.
On what’s different for him and Crosby now compared to the last time they were here: We’re older (laughs). Sid said before, we don’t have many chances to play in a Stanley Cup Final. We don’t play every year. Now we come back and play in the Final, just embrace this moment because it’s very important because we’re not younger anymore. We’re older every year and just enjoy this moment, try to help the team to win and show our best game. If you show your best game, it’s a good chance to win.
On if there is less pressure on him and Crosby: Maybe. When you win, it’s less pressure. But if you lose, it’s more pressure. So I hope we win. Less pressure (laughs).
On Bryan Rust and the speed that he can bring and what it has done for him: I think most importantly, he’s hungry. He’s a young guy; he’s never won the Stanley Cup. But he’s hungry. I see it in his eyes, he wants to win every shift, every battle. He’s a strong guy, he goes to the net, he uses his speed, but most important, he’s hungry.
On having an appreciation for the moment: We get older every year and this is the third time we play in the Finals, but who knows how many times we will play again. It’s just a very great time. We have young guys on the team. Just enjoy the moment. Start tomorrow at home and have fun.
On what’s different about this team: I think we have more confidence. When we started to play at the beginning of the year we lost a couple games, we didn’t play great and we lost confidence. When Mike (Sullivan) came to the team he said 'let’s go guys, we need to work every practice. Let’s go guys, we believe in ourselves.' And I think everyone started to believe in himself and we started to win games and we changed momentum right away. It’s very important when you have confidence.
On if Game 7 was the loudest he’s ever heard a game in Pittsburgh: I think so, yeah. We talked in the locker room, I think it’s loud. But tomorrow it’s the first game in the Finals and we start at home, tomorrow I hope it’s loudest.